By the standards we’ve recently cemented in these reviews, “Scott Free” was a nearly flawless episode of White Collar. And a legitimately great, fun hour of television. From the moment Peter teased Neal about his romantic sleepover to their encoded, late-episode tete-a-tete (the latter of which has become a climactic staple this season), nearly every scene and interaction was written for maximum utility. Even last week’s mostly crisp “Veiled Threat” suffered from a bit of uneven momentum among its two halves. “Scott Free,” however, stays in rhythm throughout, and its characters remain within themselves, rather than straining to always keep us aware that they’re a reference to the grand tradition of cops-and-robbers before them.
Matthew Bomer in particular was a beneficiary of some great situational dialogue this go-round, like when he tried to worm away from his terrible “Robin Hoody” (which I’m shocked was not the episode’s title) quip during a conference room briefing. Neal is always more interesting when he’s not necessarily the smartest one in the room, and self-effacement becomes him and Bomer more effectively than attempts to package Caffrey as the savvy lothario with a devastating wit.
Speaking of our leading man, the events that transpired tonight raised some intriguing questions about what’s in store for himself and Mozzie as Season 3 paces its way to a conclusion regarding the stolen U-boat treasure. And in the process, introduced a great new foil for the duo, one who served his immediate storytelling purpose but also has all the makings of a future protégé for Neal—or perhaps even his successor. (More on that in a bit.)
The young lad in question is Scott Rivers (played by Hutch Dano, no relation to Paul), a 20-year-old thief who steals exorbitant items from Manhattan’s rich, such as $100,000 motorcycles, and uses the profits to make donations toward charitable causes. Hence, Robin Hoody. Unfortunately for RH, one of the men whom he robbed, a gazillionaire Dr. House lookalike named Carlisle (Dana Ashbrook) is pretty pissed and trying gamely to make sure Scott never reaches 21. Neal empathizes with his youthful counterpart (naturally) and opts to commandeer the investigation from underneath Peter, harboring Scott in his townhouse, roping in Mozzie and Sarah and forging a plan to sabotage Carlisle themselves.
In the end, they get their man, viewers get to see Sara prance around flirtatiously in a diamond-encrusted bustier, Peter hesitantly grants Neal a pass for his subterfuge and Scott eventually turns himself in. All is well. Except for that little matter of Sara discovering Neal’s falsified passport and hula-girl dashboard doll inside his bedroom wall. My reading of the ending is that Neal purposely left the wall-hanging slightly ajar so that Sara would find the documents, put two and two together and decide on her own if she wants in or out without being further misled. And Sara, judging by that cryptic, slightly aroused little smile, may not realize that her discovery was no accident, but she’s certainly far from mortified. As she reminds Neal earlier in the episode, her line of work requires operating within shades of gray, and much like Skyler on Breaking Bad (not that there’s any qualitative comparison), Sara has gotten a taste for the fast life and digs the rush.
My glowing outlook on “Scott Free” is, admittedly, somewhat dependent on the plausibility of this theory. Otherwise, Neal simply let his guard down and erred in a fashion that is, to say the least, atypical. That would be hard to swallow, and is unlikely. And at the risk of belying what I liked so much about this episode and stepping outside the self-contained White Collar universe, is it so crazy to wonder if Neal might actually beat Peter at their shared game and fade out into a crystal sunset, being fed tropical fruit by Sara while she trots around in hideous bikinis that look like something out of the Green Hornet’s cross-dressed wardrobe? After all, Bomer has a bright future ahead of him, beginning with the upcoming sci-fi flick In Time, which he stars in alongside Justin Timberlake, Olivia Wilde, Amanda Seyfried and Cillian Murphy. And Dano, who seems too talented an actor for a mere one-off turn, is easy to envision as Peter’s new sidekick, and young enough to ensure several more vital years for the series. Or, at the very least, did someone say spinoff?
Far as White Collar’s present reality, I’m back on board and genuinely eager to see where they take the ongoing drama surrounding Neal and Mozzie’s escape, which is more than I can say for that stupid music box.
• Was there a larger symbolism to the episode bookending with shots of loose handcuffs ? Like, a central character’s permanent escape perhaps?
• Enough with the tilted hat already, Neal. We get it. You’re smooth.
• Nice continuity from last week with the easel in Neal’s apartment.
• I really like the conference-room scenes. The group chemistry makes up for James Rebhorn being MIA this season as the division’s overarching authority.
• Not for nothing, but I could have deduced Scott’s psychological profile about as quickly as Neal did.
• Not much Elizabeth, although I did love the little exploding fist-pound between she and Peter.
• Talk about unintended, unfortunate bad timing on the Betty Ford joke.
• I loved the little snob who owned the motorcycle, and Neal’s outwitting of him. Great casting in this ep, even if Ashbrook was a bit hokey.
• FINALLY, someone “made” Caffrey. Was wondering when that would eventually happen.
• “Do I have to be the baby?”
• “I’m not the Sherriff of Nottingham.” “Did I miss a conversation?”
• I like how we continue to realize just how much gray area Neal still straddles. Great character.